Stepping off the plane and walking through a small, quiet airport, Yangon was already something quite unfamiliar. Immigration was no hassle and I was on my way to baggage claim and then hoped to find a means to an ATM. I tried to make a withdraw from the first one I found, but the machine was out of money.
Then the power went out. The building was dark. All was normal in Burma
A few minutes later, with the power back on, I found a working ATM machine and withdrew 450,000 Kyat (around $500 US). The machine dispensed clean, crisp new bills and I had a stack of money in my hand so large that I could barely fit it into my pocket. (the largest note is 5,000 kyat worth ~$6).
Throughout my time in Myanmar, every traveler I ran into loved only one main city (Yangon/Mandalay) in Myanmar, hating the others … but they both had great parts.
This is my experience with Yangon
Walking down the streets of Yangon felt like living in a book. The people, the smells, the buildings, everything. It was all totally foreign.
Every person who saw you smiled a wide smile, often with teeth stained red. You felt welcome and even felt safe walking down dark alleys in the middle of night (where you’d be worried if it were another country).
I found most fruit (except mangosteen) to be much cheaper than in neighboring countries, such as Thailand. (One variety of local mango has a sour twinge, increasing near the pit. They’re incredible). I often got 3-4 mango for 500 Kyat $0.55 (price depended on the variety and the seller).
Alcohol (Myanmar ‘rum’ and ‘whiskey’) is probably the cheapest alcohol I’ve ever seen, costing under $2.50 dollars for a liter bottle.
There is very little nightlife in Myanmar and even in Yangon it’s almost impossible to find a place with nightly music. (Local bars are open fairly late, if you want to grab a drink and watch a soccer game).
Walking around at night can be hazardous. There are many holes and open sewers you have to watch out for.
Some places have foreigner pricing, but most shops in Yangon are fairly honest with their prices. (This may change as tourism increases.)
A military official made motorbikes illegal in Yangon, so you’ll need to take a taxi (shouldn’t cost more then 2000 Kyat $2.20 around town). If you stay at Hinn Si, they will flag down and negotiate taxi prices for you.
Just like anywhere else you go, you do need to have a traveler’s shield.’ I found it rare for people to be in your face, trying to sell you anything, but there are a few things to watch out for:
Sometimes when people are being incredibly nice, leading you some where, showing you a cool sight or teaching you something, they expect compensation. Some major tourist attractions have individuals who dress as fake monks to extort money from tourists.
Black market money changers often scam people out of money so I recommend just using an ATM. (the people are friendly and will practice their English with you, if you aren’t changing money)
There are beggars around the country who often use babies to guilt ‘donations’. Remember that the more tourists that ‘give’ the more reliance they’ll have on begging. (The cost of living is so low in Myanmar that some beggars make more then employed individuals. If you are compelled to give, give food.)
There are purified water in plastic containers, throughout Yangon, that provide public drinking water.
You should try to negotiate for most things (par prepared food), especially if you’re buying a few things. I found hawkers here to be inflexible. Only buy something after you’ve asked a few shops the price because one will likely tell you the local price. (If you’re friendly and happy in your negotiations, you’ll not only have a better experience, but you’ll usually get a better deal.)
Many food shops have a ‘pay for what you eat’ policy, so it’s easy to try many things. Be sure to ask for prices before you eat, if you’re on a budget. (No meal, even huge meals, ever cost me more then $6 in Myanmar.)
While a lot of the street food looks sketchy, you’re more likely to get sick from having dirty hands. Wash them often!
Much of the food in Myanmar is floating in excess oil, avoid fried foods if this effects your health (like it does mine).
Learn ‘hello’ and “thank you’ in the local language and if you really want to go the extra mile, wear a local longee. Everyone you encounter will be so excited to see you embrace their culture.
To really get a feel for Yangon walk around. Walk up and down the streets, stop at shops, eat some food, talk with the locals. The smiles, tastes, sights and sounds will make you love this city.